Listen twice as much as you speak.
By Travis Cote
Someone once told me that there was a reason we are born with 2 ears and only 1 mouth; we should listen twice as much as we speak. Although I do believe that our students should speak as often as possible, there is something wise and beneficial in that proverb.
Today’s world is filled with thousands of unique English speakers and their various accents. If the theoretical basis of English as a lingua franca is being able to communicate with speakers of all English varieties, we first need to listen. Providing repeated and focused exposure to a variety of English accents is one way we can begin to prepare our students for the multitude of accents and ranges of pronunciation they will encounter in the world. Variations of pronunciation styles and accents is not the only thing we notice listening to speakers of different English varieties: we realize that there are many ways of saying the same thing.
Short of travelling the world to expose yourself to these different varieties, I’ve found that international news is a great way to bring the numerous voices to our own room. Admittedly a big challenge for beginner-level learners, the BBC World Service is one of the best repositories of authentic, spoken English varieties I have come across. Also part of the BBC family is their site known as BBC Learning English. What makes this attractive is that it specifically accommodates English language learners by providing transcripts of the conversations and often a short quiz to assess comprehension.
The goal of most English language learners is the ability to communicate. Listening, albeit a bit obvious and not the only factor to effective communication, is crucial to the achievement of that goal. I encourage my students to listen to as many varieties as possible, both native and non-native varieties. It may challenge and frustrate at first because it requires us to imagine and accommodate the many different ways English may sound coming from the mouths of others. If our students can understand what is being said to them or spoken around them, they are better able to join the conversations. Listen twice as much as you speak.